The Resilience of Reconciliation – Comments by Fairmount Temple Stern Social Action Speaker Dr. Chris Seiple

The comments below were published by the Institute for Global Engagement ( in December of 2011, written by Dr. Chris Seiple, our Stern Social Action Speaker for 2012,when he presented to the U.S. Special Operations Command conference. Dr. Chris Seiple is the President of the Institute for Global Engagement. His presentation below is presented for our contemplation and discussion on this blog today – in light of world events, and also in preparation for Dr. Seiple’s upcoming Yom Kippur presentation: “Engaging the Other on the Global and Local Stage: America’s Challenge in Fostering Social Justice.”





Since completing three degrees in international relations, I now have three children under the age of five…it is only with the latter that my learning has begun. I should have listened better to Mark Twain who admonished folks to never let their schooling interfere with their education.

We were driving to my parents a couple months ago, experiencing that precious privilege of the “triple meltdown” (three children crying for no apparent let alone consolable reason). I quickly distributed the “sippy” cups, congratulating myself—out loud, of course—for bringing them. As the screaming succumbed to the relative silence of three kids sucking down milk at the rapid rate, my wife rejoined: “Well, who do you think put those “sippy” cups by the front door before we left?”(a fact that I had conveniently left out). Soon we were going back and forth until our oldest son simply said: “Stop: you both did it!”

A little while later, we were again all in the truck, driving past the small Christian school where our second son joined his older brother this year for pre-kindergarten. This time our oldest said, with pride: “That’s my school.” Our second son took quick offense, declaring that it was his school. Soon they were yelling at each other—as our 18-month old daughter joined in, because she could—each son completely rejecting the suggestion from their parents that the school might belong to both of them.

Reconciliation is so much easier when you’re not the one doing it!

The human condition yearns for meaning, to feel important. Unfortunately, our first instinct is to determine importance by putting ourselves at the center (usually by putting someone else down). Our second instinct is to gain meaning by serving something greater than ourselves. The latter potentially mitigates the former only if we understand and serve that “something” as truly greater than ourselves.

Achieving anything of enduring effect in this global century will be determined by how we relate to each other. That’s not a touchy-feely statement but a hard-headed declaration. There is no challenge on this planet that any single state or non-state actor can address, let alone solve, on its own. Therefore it is not a question of if but when you partner with someone to resolve something of mutual interest.

The practical process of partnership will determine speed and success. That process begins, consciously or subconsciously, with the (non-)framework you have of yourself and the “other,” with whom you are partnering. By definition, the process requires partners to sacrifice their sovereignty—individual and institutional—to mutually accommodate the other’s identity.

This process is hard enough when it is merely a matter of the head, when it takes place, for example, between agencies on the same team. (How many times have I heard State and Defense Department people refer to each other as “those people across the river.”)

But the head is nothing compared to the heart. There no greater resistance to partnership and peace than a decided heart that is against the other according to its religious framework. By the same token, however, there is no greater resilience to conflict than a committed heart that faithfully seeks reconciliation—the mutual accommodation of identity—with the other.

A December 2009 global Gallup poll tells us that 82% of the world’s population believes in something greater than themselves (with most living in parts of the world that are more prone to conflict). On the one hand, this fact should be good news, as all belief systems have something positive to say about how to live and work with non-believers. On the other hand, given our first instinct as humans, it is all too easy to worship a god that always agrees with us (as was once said of Otto van Bismarck).

In other words, because our first instinct is, well, first, we are quite capable of turning faith into a religion, where the certitude of means (how we worship) erodes the mystery and majesty of the ends (that which we worship). The faith to which we are supposed to be obedient becomes a religion that obeys us. (This is also known as idolatry, incidentally.) And, when one possesses all the answers that the other does not, it becomes possible to violate the faith by killing for religion.

After nine years in the Marine Corps, I have spent the past ten working for a Christian organization that builds religious freedom—mutual respect for each other’s freedom of conscience not to believe as the other does—through local partnerships. Two experiences, in particular, have forced me to go deeper into my own faith.

Once I was assigned a Communist handler to spend the day with me. At the end of the day, this Vietnamese man told me that after 25 years of engaging Americans, I was the first not to give him a list and tell him what to do. I apologized for the treatment that he had received, while making it clear that his personal experience did not excuse how his government had treated religious minorities.

Another time I was asked to meet with an Islamist from the Afghanistan-Pakistan border region who had been elected on an anti-American, pro-sharia platform. I asked him why he was in government. He told me that he believed that on the last day his Creator would hold him accountable for his time on earth. I shared with him that while we had irreconcilable differences about the divinity of Christ, I nevertheless shared his belief about the Day of Judgment.

In both situations, there was every reason to engage each other through the lens of our respective (non-)religion. For me, the Communist and Islamist were my enemy; if only because it’s easier to be defined against something, especially if that something has played a significant role in bringing harm to my country, and my faith.

On the other hand, these two men had every right to understand me as a Christian imperialist, bringing the sword in one hand and the Bible in the other. (An imam from the Persian Gulf once said to me: “Chris, you are a former Marine and an evangelical—you are my worst nightmare!”)

Yet, since these meetings, our organization has managed to have significant access in both countries, if not some strategic impact. I will not speak for why these two men—now my friends—engaged me, but I can reflect on why I engaged them.

My faith commands that I love God, neighbor, and enemy. The truth of the matter is that I have always loved God, but it has always been easier to love neighbors that look and vote as I do. Forced into engaging—and loving—those who don’t, I have had to come to grips with my own belief. Do I have the strength to love my neighbor? My enemy?

It turns out that God provides the strength to follow His commands. In doing so, I have learned that the more we care for all those made in His image, the more we become in His likeness. If I walk in their shoes as Jesus walked in mine, the less likely it is that conflict will result. The more my identity is rooted in the other, the more fully human I become.

The curious part is that since I am now actively engaged in loving those who don’t look and vote like me, some of those who do wonder if I still love them! This result has force me deeper, still, as I consider what it means to submit to fellow believers out of reverence for God, as commanded in John 13:35 and Ephesians 5:21.

Now, what does all this mean for security in our global century? I offer five conclusions:

  1. If religion has been a part of the problem, it must be a part of the solution.
  2. Only good theology beats bad theology; it will take the best of faith to defeat the worst of religion.
  3. The strongest faith seeks reconciliation, but you can’t encourage or expect reconciliation unless you look in the mirror and live it, starting at home; and you can only sustain it if you serve and are obedient to something greater than yourself.
  4. The mind has all the facts. Only the heart can transcend the nature of war—the imposition of one neighbor’s will upon another—a heart that seeks the other, obediently, according to the best of faith.
  5. In this context, preemptive peace is possible. If we start living out the best of our faith, then we can prevent conflict before it happens. This is when reconciliation becomes resilient.